Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Summary of our Group Meeting

I wanted to give a recap of our group discussion on Participating in God's Life.  If I miss something, please add it here, or if there is something you would like to add, please comment. . .
1.  We agreed that there was a need to get past our heritage of being afraid of the Holy Spirit, recognizing that the Spirit is a who, not an it, and is part of the Godhead, and not limited to nothing more than words in the Bible.
2.  Our traditions sometimes become so entrenched, that it is hard to see another way, even if it is more biblical.  We truly are creatures of tradition and habit.
3.  We noted that there are two dangers, one being the cold and lifeless rationalism that many of us are familiar with, and the other is the anything goes experientialism we see in charismatic groups.  However, we didn't think that were were getting anywhere remotely close to the second extreme.  Worship should be enjoyable because we should enjoy God.  Worship should be lively because God is life.  This should be reflected in our worship.
4.  While our emphasis on being grounded in the Bible is commendable, we realize that God is not limited to words on a page or any other box we might try to put him in.  We don't want to get everything right, get the structure correct, and it be hollow.  As the book said, we don't want to build a correct temple yet forget about the one who is supposed to inhabit the temple.
5.  God is always active in the world and in our lives.  When we think God is only involved by "setting aside" the laws of nature, then we are speaking more from our tradition of enlightenment rationality rather than biblically.  The biblical perspective is that God is involved all the time, sometimes in extraordinary ways, sometimes in the mundane things.
6.  The last chapter of the book was the best.  After getting through all the history, doctrine, and theology, it brings it all together by giving some steps to apply in participating more fully in God's life.  We recognize that by "life," we don't mean the human conception of life, but the life that comes from the living God, which is spiritual and eternal.  The trinitarian prayer sounded strange to us, possibly because we don't use trinitarian formulas in our worship much except for in baptism (Father, Son and Holy Spirit).  But the greatest challenge is perhaps what the authors called, "Learning to enjoy God."  We were created to love God, to enjoy our relationship with Him. Thinking that serving God is somehow supposed to be dutiful and somewhat joyless is not biblical. 
We didn't talk about "Dirty Philosophy" per se, but we did discuss it in other terms.  There was the observation that this book was deep, and at times hard to read due to the use of unfamiliar terms.  One of the things this book made clear is that we are affected by our culture more than we realize, but our culture is shifting, which should cause us to evaluate what of our beliefs about God is biblical, and what is more the result of our scientific, rational culture. 

Thursday, February 16, 2012

God is Present and Active in our Lives All the Time

One of the things that struck me is the point that the Biblical view is that God does not supersede the laws of nature, but that he is simply active in the world.  I don't remember the page number, but the authors said that to make the statement that God overturns the laws of nature implies that God is not normally active in his creation, which is more the result of enlightenment thinking rather than sound biblical theology.  The Bible simply demonstrates that God is active, whether it is in extraordinary ways, or more mundane ways.  This makes me think of places such as the story of Joseph, where he declares to his brothers that they meant it for evil when they sold him into slavery, but God meant it for good.  Or the time when Samson told his parents he wanted a foreign woman for his wife, and the text says that they did not know that it was of the Lord.  The Bible demonstrates that God raises up kings and brings them down.  The song of Hannah, and the song of Mary both declare God is involved in the affairs of the world.  Paul says in Colossions that not only did the Lord create all things, but all things hold together through him.  He is most definitely involved.  Perhaps only those with eyes to see and ears to hear can understand.   

I am still trying to get a handle on this in my own life.  I was brought up with the "God helps those who help themselves" or the "You have to pull yourself up by your own bootstraps" mentality.  In other words, the only help from God we have is instruction that he gave a long long time ago in a book.  The orthodox teaching we received at the time was that God is no longer active today as we was long ago.  We prayed as though God would never actually do anything.  Having a "relationship" with God is what touchy feely people talked about, not intelligent rational Christians like us.  Fortunately, I think we today are moving away from this, I know I am.

Dirt Philosophy

One of the things that stands out to me in my recent reading is from chapter four.  In discussing the less traveled path of our tradition, the path that Richardson and a few others traveled, the authors list several roadblocks, including (1) Rejection of Spiritual Experience (2) Intellectualism, and (3) Suppression of the Affections.  These suggest that many have emphasized a religion of mind over a religion of the heart. 

I don't know about others, but this is particularly a challenging section to one like me who has been trained the theology and the tools of good scholarship.  The authors refer to what Soren Kierkegaard called the "theoretical attitude."  Having read Kierkegaard, I am familiar with some of his rants against the theologians and religious scholars of his day.  He accused them of using scholarship and academia to distance themselves from God.  God had become an academic subject to study, dissect, and lecture on, rather than the loving Father to obey, have a relationship with, and love.

I think about my own experience both in church and in the classroom of both undergraduate and graduate ministry programs.  You could get straight A's, graduate at the top of the class, and still not have a healthy relationship with the Lord whom you are supposed to be training to serve.  Perhaps this is why there have been the scandals we have seen among ministers regarding impropriety, theft, and other such things. (Fortunately, some of our schools are working to change this trend by making "spiritual formation" a central part of the program to develop the heart as well as the mind.  I believe ACU and Harding School of Theology both have implemented this focus in their schools).

It is not limited to just liberal arts schools, preaching school often have the same academic orientation in their studies.  This makes me think of a book I read recently entitled Saint, Demons and Asses: Southern Preacher Anecdotes.  I was struck by the rudeness of some of the preachers in past years (not just Church of Christ preachers, but many many people).  Many loved to call their opponents donkeys in clever ways in debates, and resorted to various other types of name-calling that were very crass.  Many who listened cheered them on and took pride in their guy getting one over on the opponent by having a better insult.  There are some who have the same mentality today.  They seem to be oblivious that they do not display the fruit of the Spirit in their lives.  Could this be a sign of the "dirt philosophy" that this study talks about? 

I don't disparage good scholarship.  I wrote an essay a few months ago on the value of good scholarship.  It is posted here.  (I don't know if that link will work)

However, God is not reducible to a set of theological propositions.  God is not an artifact to be studied.  In fact, this type of orientation can be quite dangerous.  One could say the first theological discussion on God occurred in the garden between the serpent and Eve.  God is the living God with whom we can have a relationship.  His word is living and active because God himself is living and active.  Jesus himself, the Word that became flesh, demonstrates this.  Why reduce God to a set of propositions anyway?  If the motivation is to understand God, recognizing he is the living God, that doesn't seem to be a bad thing.  But if it is simply to make him easier to handle, then it amounts to idolatry.  Besides, God didn't reveal himself through propositions to mankind.  He revealed himself through his actions.  Much of the Bible is in narrative form, narrating the story of God as he reaches out to us.  Do we reach back, or analyze it?

Friday, February 10, 2012

Faith vs. Manmade philosophy (Pgs 35-44)

The struggle between Robert Richardson and Tolbert Fanning is similar to the differences between our nation's Founding Fathers and Thomas Payne (Paine?).  Payne wrote "Common Sense" which embodied all the universal principles that galvinized the American Revolution.  He was a key part of it and was accepted by all of our Founding Fathers.  One of the in crowd...  But around 1790 and the beginnings of the French Revolution Payne attributed the Revolution's success to Man's own ingenuity, self ingenuity and resourcefulness but not to the Lord's Divine Providence.  Payne wrote a series on this philosophy that paralleled the French ideas at the time and guess what?!!!!  Payne was ostricized by the Founding Fathers to a man, and he wasn't even allowed to be buried with any public notoriety.  He was buried in some obscure cow pasture!!!  With Fanning and Richardson, it stacks up to me, that Fanning takes the man made ingenuity and resourcefulness tract while Richardson clings more to Providence with the natural state of The Spirit, only Richardson is the one who becomes ostricized by the Church of Christ Status Quo.  
For lack of a more eloquent argument I'm going to post some ideas that coincide with Richardson's argument, which I totally agree with thus far.

"The Holy Spirit of God is imparted to the believer, really and truly, taking up his abode in his person, as a distinct guest."

Richardson argued against the idea that the Spirit works only through the Word (or Scripture).  {{Its kind of like saying that the only way the Spirit works is by some mystical invocation of the literal written word of scripture.  This demotes the Spirit to the written word in scripture and the scripture itself as only some form of magic spell!!!}}  Richardson rightly asserts that this view "chilled Spiritual vitality and replaced it with a doctrinal formalism."

That last point leads to his conclusion that "some system of human philosophy has insidiously intruded itself, and, like the serpent in Eden, seduced the unwary, by the charms of forbidden knowledge."

Literally, like the Pharisees in Jesus' time, this human philosophy that is spoken of is consistent with the letter and principle of the Law but doesn't come anywhere near the Spirit and appropriate practice of it!!!

Therefore, the Spirit is rendered sterile, absent of Divine Life and energy.

This sterility reduces Christianity to a "mere profession of faith" void of the Spirit's life. 

The most incredible point of it all is that we do it to ourselves, "The contamination of faith with pilosophy is a very subtle business.  No one sets out to do it.  Everyone thinks that his or her "speculations" are simply revealed Bible truths."  {{This explains denominations more clearly to me and reaffirms a belief that I've always had is that the actual Body of Christ is Spiritual and no denomination has cornered that.}}  

Monday, February 6, 2012

The Spiritual Journey Today (Paraphrase/Main Points)

There is a huge spiritual hunger that is manifesting today that traditional institutional Christianity can not fulfill.  Humanity is recognizing that all life is at root spiritual, that everything we see is formed and sustained by what we cannot see.  {There is an entire market of Christian books that clearly show this spiritual thirsting; A Journey that I have personally been on for at least the past 7 years.  Titles like, Radical, Finding Organic Church, Unchristian, The Christian Atheist, Pagan Chrisitanity have all attempted to piece together the puzzle to this spiritual void.} 

To fill the void our authors have offered the cause: The collapse of the brass heaven.  Christian intellectuals and apologists have attempted to accommodate the modernist world view by reformulating faith by watering down or banishing its mysteries in order to pass the scientific rationality test.  {Now we have a unique opportunity to restore a proper understanding and application of miracles, the Trinity, divine presence and all such things spiritual that were sacrificed for the modernist perspective.  But we also have to keep in mind that we are competing with secular views of spirituality who are seeking other spiritual answers outside of Christianity due to their mistrust.  We have to understand that one of the reasons for their mistrust is because of our lack of proper teaching.  We appear fragmented with denominations and hypocritical in believing in something such as spiritual issues, by not being able to explain them or habitually practice them...  The bluff that technology will solve all of our problems will also be an obstacle to overcome from those who cling to that worldview.}

@ Lana: If you notice, we will find out more about heaven by reading this book.  Everything we see is formed and sustained by what we cannot see.  That's a start!  Can't wait to read on!!!

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Today's Journey Spiritual

Been reading the work of Allen and Swick for a couple of days now. Chapter 1 refreshed my memory of The Connecting Church by Randy Frazee. I reviewed paragraph 1 at ch. 6. I'm convinced that the challenge or  measure of a successful spiritual journey depends on how well we "mind the gap."The Spiritual gap being the chasm between where we are right now in our Spiritual journey and where we need to be as we seek to become more like Christ.(Frazee at pp.87)
Allen and Swicks' allusion to a modern day Spiritual desperation sheds light on the need a Christian has, to be conformed to the image of Christ in word and deed. If a Spiritual Tsunami has hit, many more may be saved as a result of the afformentioned conduct, not popular culturalism(porous boundaries)which allow mere show over the needed substance.


Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Don't have book yet!

I'll start posting as soon as I get the book. I guess that John has it?

The Role of the Bible and the Spirit

Reading the sections about what they called "Dirt Philosophy" or "Sensualistic Materialism" in regard to the Spirit and the Word reminds me of a song I have sung in different churches. 

"Break Thou the Bread of Life, Dear Lord to Me, As Thou Dids't Break the Bread Beside the sea,
Within the Sacred Page, I seek the Lord, My Spirit pants for thee O living word"

That is what I grew up with.  Then, as I moved around, I remember singing this from another song book as,
"BEYOND the Sacred Page I seek thee Lord . . ."

Different words!  I didn't recognize how significantly different these words are.  The first suggests that our Lord is contained within the sacred page, while the latter suggests that the sacred page is a witness to the Lord.  He is beyond the sacred page.  The sacred page points to him. 

The first (within the sacred page), seems particularly Lockean, or Baconian.  But, God does not exist in the sacred page.  He does not depend on scripture for his existence, nor does he require the written word to change men's hearts.  The spoken and written word are tools to bring people to God.  I remember a term I heard several years ago, "bibliolatry."  That term seems to fit here.  Can you focus too much on the word that you miss the one that the word is supposed to bring you into communion with? Can you know the Bible and not really know God?  Can you know and even obey the Bible and still miss the author of it?

I am thinking of passages such as 1 Corinthians 2 that talks about how, through the Spirit, we have the mind of Christ.  Titus 3:5 says we have been renewed by the Spirit.  This is another way of saying we have become a new person, the old person is put to death.  The Spirit transforms us inwardly.  It occurs to me that passages such as these do not say we read the word and we obey and are therefore changed.  It seems to go much deeper than this.  To have the mind of Christ is much deeper than memorizing scripture or some biblical doctrine.  As important as these are, they are only related to knowing God.  I know that knowing scripture and doctrine is not the same as knowing God. 

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Little Known History

I found the bit of history concerning Richardson and Fanning rather interesting.  I had heard of Richardson in the past because he had written Campbell's biography.  In more recent years, someone published a collection of Richardson's communion mediations along with a chapter on the emphasis on spirituality that Richardson espoused.  That was a very refreshing book.  This is the most I have read about Richardson.  I would like to see if I can find a copy of his book on the Spirit. 

In my classes I have had on Restoration History, nothing was ever said about Richardson other than the fact that he was at Bethany and had written A. Campbell's biography.  This, like the slavery issue in the Restoration Movement, was given no attention at all in the books and readings we were assigned. 

If I remember right, it was Tom Clark, a former member here, who had recommended this book, saying it dealt with a subject that we have not given a lot of attention to.  Restoration history books in the past were more like folk histories, celebrating the accomplishments of key leaders, often idealizing them.  This is why I appreciate the critical histories that have been published over the last couple of decades which have included events and topics that fill in some historical gaps.

Monday, January 30, 2012

Ch 1: The Spiritual Journey Today

Hello, all!  Well, I just typed up a bunch, and then accidentally deleted, so hope I can remember what I wrote.

I am a bit overwhelmed with life right now, so decided to put God first and read the first chapter of our book.  I read page 32 several times, and these sentences jumped out at me.

"clash sharply with some of the theological tenets of the Churches of Christ...a tradition devoid both of language to talk about 'experiencing God' and a theological framework able to account for and discipline such experience."

"challenges of this new era can reopen doors to Christian truth and experience...awaken Christians to a more faithful and robust practice of their faith..."

I am not sure about the "theological tenets" referred to, but these sentences make me think how my mom always used to say that the Church of Christ did not teach or embrace the Holy Spirit the way that she understood from the Bible.  From my five years in Europe, I participated in Bible groups with women of other faiths.  There was a difference in the way those women spoke of their walk with God, more emotional, and seemingly with more faith and dependence, than the more legalistic and practical conversations with the ladies at the Church of Christ.

I guess that's it.  I did have a few more sentences, but not really sure how it fits in anymore, so look forward to hearing what you are getting out of the book so far.

- Samantha